St. Luke and the Table of God

* This is the first installment in the blog-along through Mike Graves’ Table Talk: Rethinking Communion and Community.

Today, October 18, is the Feast of Saint Luke. As a member of the Order of Saint Luke, a religious order dedicated to liturgical scholarship and sacramental spirituality, today is an important day for me. It is a day that I remember my vows in the order and I honor the saint whose gospel account tells the story of Jesus, a story of love, peace, and hope. The Gospel according to Luke is a masterful piece of literature and an indispensable part of the biblical narrative. In it we see a Jesus who eats with people, heals them, listens to them, challenges them, tells them stories, and re-interprets all aspects of life through the lens of God’s magnificent reign of shalom that is coming – and, indeed, has come – into the world.

The great poetry that forms the heart of the daily office of prayer is woven into the fabric of Luke’s story of Jesus: Zechariah’s prayer of praise for the compassion of God, Mary’s song of justice and rejoicing, and Simeon’s expressions of gratitude for answered prayers.

The humanity of Jesus is fully displayed in Luke’s story of Jesus: the boy, teaching at the temple, frustrating his parents, growing in knowledge and wisdom; the tired man, recognizing his own death was immanent, giving his disciples hope in his final moments with them; the resurrected One, walking, teaching, blessing, sharing.

But perhaps most influential part of Luke’s Gospel on me in my own journey as a Lukan are its ten meal stories. Ten. More than the other three gospels, Luke highlights that important things happen at meals where Jesus is present. People are healed, truth is revealed, and the status quo is, sometimes dramatically, overturned in the process. Each of the ten meal stories shows us something different about Jesus and yet all show us the same image of a God whose love is beyond measure, even (and especially) for those outside the frame of our own limited worldview.

In his opening pages, Mike Graves identifies four traits about early Christian meals that frame the rest of his book. He says that these meals exhibited an “intimacy that naturally developed as [Christians] spent a whole evening together eating and talking;” “they were mostly inclusive, breaking down barriers of gender and socio-economic status;” “festive joy characterized” the gatherings; and, “everyone participated in lively conversations,” with the emphasis on “how everyone could participate in the dialogue” (6-7).

Graves’ notes that, for most parts of the early church, the meal that was shared in honor of the resurrected Christ constituted the essence and core of the liturgical service. This is, however, not a fellowship meal in our contemporary language. It was an intentional gathering, structured and designed around established ancient cultural traditions of fraternity and pledging loyalty to the empire (in this case, Christ’s new commonwealth of shalom). It is distinctly political and widely radical. The sharing of the Christ-meal at Table is a re-telling of the ten meal stories of Jesus through a communal rehearsal of their theology in community.

It is fitting to be offering the first thoughts on a book about communion and community as I reflect today on Saint Luke the Evangelist’s contribution to the Christian tradition and to my own journey of faith within that tradition. I joined the Order of Saint Luke in 2013, took my public vows in 2014, and since then have worked diligently to promote the worship of the church and to magnify the sacraments (two of our vows). Luke’s Gospel account continues to be an inspiration in this calling. In all this work I have become more and more convinced that intentional, joyful, and abundant Eucharistic practice must be at the heart of Christian worship every time the church gathers. Saint Luke tells the story of Jesus in an ordered and poetic way that draws our attention to how important things in God’s reign are revealed and practiced at Table. Why would we want to forego the chance to experience such wonder?

Graves’ book promises to offer insights on how to reclaim some of the early church’s practice for a contemporary context. Along the way over the next six weeks I will offer my own insight into how your congregation can move to weekly communion practice, reflecting the importance of meal in our heritage and rehearsing the very activity that was the foundation of Jesus’ ministry in Luke’s Gospel.

So today, join me in giving thanks for Saint Luke the Evangelist, and pray that the God-who-is-still-speaking will stir our hearts toward the Table where Christ is making all things new.

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